Miss Goodwin had promised to meet the foreign ladies on the pier. We quarrelled and made it up a dozen times like girl and boy, I calling her aunt Clara, as in the old days, and she calling me occasionally son Richie: an imitation of my father’s manner of speech to me when we formed acquaintance first in Venice. But I was very little aware of what I was saying or doing. The forces of my life were yoked to the heart, and tumbled as confusedly as the world under Phaethon charioteer. We walked on the heights above the town. I looked over the water to the white line of shore and batteries where this wonder stood, who was what poets dream of, deep-hearted men hope for, none quite believe in. Hardly could I; and though my relenting spinster friend at my elbow kept assuring me it was true that she was there, my sceptical sight fixed on the stale prominences visible in the same features which they had worn day after empty day of late. This deed of hers was an act of devotion great as death. I knew it from experience consonant to Ottilia’s character; but could a princess, hereditary, and bound in the league of governing princes, dare so to brave her condition? Complex of mind, simplest in character, the uncontrollable nobility of her spirit was no sooner recognized by me than I was shocked throughout by a sudden light, contrasting me appallingly with this supreme of women, who swept the earth aside for truth. I had never before received a distinct intimation of my littleness of nature, and my first impulse was to fly from thought, and then, as if to prove myself justly accused, I caught myself regretting—no, not regretting, gazing, as it were, on a picture of regrets—that Ottilia was not a romantic little lady of semi-celestial rank, exquisitely rash, wilful, desperately enamoured, bearing as many flying hues and peeps of fancy as a love-ballad, and not more roughly brushing the root-emotions.
If she had but been such an one, what sprightly colours, delicious sadness, magical transformations, tenderest intermixture of earth and heaven; what tears and sunbeams, divinest pathos: what descents from radiance to consolatory twilight, would have surrounded me for poetry and pride to dwell on! What captivating melody in the minor key would have been mine, though I lost her—the legacy of it all for ever! Say a petulant princess, a star of beauty, mad for me, and the whisper of our passion and sorrows traversing the flushed world! Was she coming? Not she, but a touchstone, a relentless mirror, a piercing eye, a mind severe as the Goddess of the God’s head: a princess indeed, but essentially a princess above women: a remorseless intellect, an actual soul visible in the flesh. She was truth. Was I true? Not so very false, yet how far from truth! The stains on me (a modern man writing his history is fugitive and crepuscular in alluding to them, as a woman kneeling at the ear-guichet) burnt like the blood-spots on the criminal compelled to touch his victim by savage ordinance, which knew the savage and how to search him. And these were faults of weakness rather than the sins of strength. I might as fairly hope for absolution of them from Ottilia as from offended laws of my natural being, gentle though she was, and charitable.